SWINGS AND RINGS
December 2, 2021 by LAM Staff
On a bright blue Friday afternoon in October, I was stopped at a red light in Squirrel Hill, a residential area about five miles from downtown Pittsburgh, when I saw a young woman with a backpack red trying to climb a steep slope on his bike. She approached the hill with good momentum and was not lacking in confidence and was halfway up the boulder before starting to lose speed. Two-thirds of the way, she began to wobble. Pedaling a few more meters, she surrendered to the inevitable and finished the journey on foot.
At the bottom of the hill was Wightman Park, recently redesigned around the very force the young woman was trying to overcome. In the Pittsburgh’s Hill district, stormwater collects in the valleys. In 2014, the city’s Public Works Department (DPW) initiated a master planning process for the two-acre low-lying park, with its small baseball field, half-basketball court, and playground. aging games, through which a stream used to flow. During the process of gathering community feedback for the master plan and redesign, landscape architects at Pittsburgh-based Pashek + MTR heard from neighbors that basement backups during storms were getting worse.
“And so we thought, ‘Oh, that would be a great place to really increase the stormwater capacity and start trying to get water from the surrounding streets,” says Sara Thompson, ASLA, director of the company.
A contact with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), which until then had focused its green infrastructure work on much larger spaces, saw plans for stormwater catchment in Wightman Park on social media and took to contacted Pashek + MTR. Gradually, PWSA and DPW struck a deal, with the city taking over the surface improvements and the water and sewer authority responsible for the underground infrastructure, along with a series of replacement planters and entrances. improved in the surrounding streets. It was the first time the two agencies had collaborated on such a project, says Andrea Ketzel, senior landscape architect at the City of Pittsburgh, but it ticked so many boxes for both agencies that other collaborations are already underway.
It was also a unique collaboration for Pashek + MTR and Ethos Collaborative, the engineers who carried out the stormwater management work. Together, city agencies, landscape architects, engineers and contractors worked with residents to redesign the space in both form and function. The park now features a stone waterfall that feeds rainwater from the surrounding streets into a central rain garden in the park basin, crossed by a winding promenade, which has replaced much of the lawn. A system of retention tanks buried under the playground, garden and ball fields stores over 300,000 gallons of water. In total, the two-acre park manages stormwater over the surrounding 30 acres.
Since the park reopened in fall 2020, kids have been climbing the sides of the waterfall and screaming as gravity pulls them down a slide at the edge of the park, while adults take laps around the perimeter of the park and hug each other. walk along the promenade through the rain garden. Standing at the mouth of the waterfall this Friday afternoon, Thompson pointed to a platform above the bathrooms that creates a view of the entire park and where an interpretive sign explains how the water moves in space. “We wanted to make stormwater visible and use it as an educational tool,” she says. From the top you can’t quite see the old stream, but as the asters and goldenrods grow in the rain garden, the water clearly wants to be found.